Archive

December 20th

On Terrorism, Cruz Has No Idea

    Terrorism is not going away. We saw that in the closing of the Los Angeles schools after what was deemed a "credible" threat. The threat turned out to be not real, but with the country under heightened alarm, local authorities have become hyper-vigilant. That was 650,000 students sent or kept home.

    When a good piece of time passed without a serious terrorist attack, politicians went soft. Many hawks on the right switched gears, turning on "big government" as the predominant evil and its national security programs as an assault on the privacy of innocent Americans.

    With the massacres in Paris and San Bernardino, California, still in the headlines, many Americans are wondering what was so terrible about the federal bulk surveillance program that Congress ended in September. Rekindled fears of terrorism have changed the conversation.

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Trump tries to rise above the fray he created

    Donald Trump hyped the fifth debate of Republican candidates as if it were a heavyweight champion fight and he was defending his title. Yet for the first 20 minutes, the front-runner seemed barely to be there, not hitting anyone who didn't hit him first. When the moderator, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, asked Jeb Bush about his description of Trump as "unhinged," the Donald was surprisingly low energy: "Jeb doesn't really believe I'm unhinged. He said that very simply because he has failed in this campaign."

    For Trump, that's being nicey-nicey. For the next 20 minutes, he sat back as Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio tussled. The real estate mogul didn't make news until the conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt grilled him on his hints that he'd run as an independent if the party tried to cheat him out of the nomination. He promised not to. We couldn't see if his fingers were crossed.

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The immigration game Cruz and Rubio can't win

    Tuesday night's Republican debate proved once again that there is no way for a Republican -- any Republican -- to truly win a debate on immigration.

    Yes, Republicans of all stripes can score partisan points when they talk about the border. The sizable decline in illegal migration coming across from Mexico during the Obama administration is a fact aggressively, almost universally, unacknowledged in Republican circles. So clamoring for a militaristic crackdown on the spectral hordes crossing the Rio Grande is a certain winner. Heck, it's so easy that even Jeb Bush, who memorably described illegal immigration as an "act of love," can fake it.

    The trouble surfaces on the topic of the 11 million settled undocumented immigrants who crossed borders long ago. Their fate, and the intraparty conflict it generates between those entertaining punitive fantasies and those committed to more humane realities, is the crux of the party's Donald Trump calamity. Trump has merely channeled, albeit more effectively than many of us ever imagined, the ugly political energy that was bound to seep out one way or another.

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The GOP's ghastly parlor game: Cruz or Trump?

    Who would be a more dangerous president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? This ghastly parlor game lacks a satisfying answer; either would be toxic for America. That the question is not fanciful makes it all the more terrifying.

    Trump's deficiencies are evident, increasingly so. He is a demagogue and a bully. He lacks both preparation for the office and ideological convictions. He has thought deeply about ... nothing, except how to promote Donald J. Trump.

    Such bluster masks -- barely -- a yawning insecurity. A man confident in his intellect would not be so compelled to announce how smart he is or to boast of his Ivy League pedigree. Trump craves adulation; poll numbers are his crack. He seems incapable of tolerating criticism or dissent.

    These traits are dangerous for a president, a post for which character and temperament are paramount concerns. As much as Trump touts his negotiating skills and managerial bona fides, it is difficult -- no, make that scary -- to imagine him dealing with world leaders or congressional counterparts.

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The Fed's gross oversight

    The Federal Reserve's decision Wednesday to raise interest rates for the first time since 2006 highlights a glaring weakness of conventional economic analysis: its failure to understand the role that power plays in shaping the economy.

    By all the usual metrics, wages should be bounding upward now that unemployment has been reduced to 5 percent and 13 million jobs have been added to the economy since the depths of the Great Recession. It's to counter the inflationary pressures that such wage increases would engender that the Fed finally decided to hike rates.

    The only problem with this analysis is that wages are not bounding upward, and inflation has remained below - not above - the Fed's preferred rate of 2 percent. In essence, the Fed decided to act on mainstream economists' theories - wages and inflation should be increasing, dammit - rather than observable facts.

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The fear factor in the Republican debate

    The fifth debate of Republican presidential candidates in Las Vegas Tuesday night focused mostly on national security matters, especially terrorism. The oratory was hot, with much talk of threats, danger and military strategy. Bloomberg View's Ramesh Ponnuru and Paula Dwyer watched and compared notes.

    Dwyer: It appears that, first and foremost, the candidates wanted to show their comfort in the role of wartime president, a role that Barack Obama has never been comfortable in. So will all this be about using the language of aggression -- and instilling fear in voters?

    Ponnuru: The outlier, I'd say, on tone rather than substance, is Marco Rubio, whose opening statement emphasized the country's greatness and the need to protect it rather than the threats to it. Donald Trump famously talks about making America great again, but his emphasis always seems to be on how it's not great right now. Rubio's rhetorical strategy seems to me to be the right one for the general election, but whether it's right for the primaries is less clear.

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The EU sets off an online privacy revolution

    Different branches of European Union have agreed on the shape of the EU's new data privacy law, which means it is likely to be passed early in 2016 and fully enacted within two years. This is not one of those arcane legal documents that have little effect on people's everyday lives. The new rules will drastically change how companies use people's data and perhaps reshape data-based businesses such as advertising and online retail.

    The idea of the new regulation is to establish the same data privacy rules across the EU -- something the European Commission says will result in savings of 2.3 billion euros ($2.5 billion) a year for businesses -- but also to hand to users full control of their personal data, which the EU defines broadly as "any information relating to a data subject," or natural person. This means companies will have to explain exactly what information they are collecting, for what purposes and how long it will be retained.

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Republicans debate terrorism, divorced from reality

    After nearly two hours of debating Middle East foreign policy, Republican candidates made two things clear: All the contenders want to destroy the Islamic State. And none of them has a real plan to rid the region of terrorism.

    There were a range of ideas floated at the debate about how to correct what all Republicans argue is a failing Obama administration anti-terrorism policy. Leading contenders Donald Trump and Ted Cruz want to keep Syrian President Bashar al Assad in power for the time being and, as Cruz put it, "carpet bomb" the Islamic State into submission. Rand Paul opposes "regime change" in Syria. Establishment Republicans including Marco Rubio and John Kasich insist that removing Assad is key to drying up the terrorist group's recruiting.

    But as the candidates got into the specifics of their plans, they revealed a range of misunderstandings about the way the Middle East works, the realities of the fight against terrorist groups there and the current state of U.S. policy.

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Playing TV tough guys

    It was billed as a foreign policy debate, but Tuesday's encounter among Republican presidential candidates was in large part an acting competition over who could convey the impression of being the baddest, meanest foe of the terrorists -- and of Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

    Before his re-election as governor of very blue New Jersey (and when he was seeking mountains of federal money after Sandy), Chris Christie embraced the man in the White House. Now, he calls his old buddy a "feckless weakling." Ted Cruz defended "carpet bombing" while Donald Trump explained that being "much tougher" on terrorists meant going after their families and "girlfriends."

     "That will make people think," Trump explained, "because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families' lives." It fell to Jeb Bush, who called Trump out again and again, to pronounce this particular stratagem "just crazy."

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Now This Is Really Criminal

    The media is fond of calling out our “do-nothing Congress.” Indeed, our national lawmakers’ last term was one of the least productive in history.

    But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

    According to author John Whitehead, Congress has created, on average, 50 new crimes per year for the past decade. Not 50 new laws. Fifty new crimes.

    The trend is headed in the wrong direction. In just the five years from 2008 until 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service, Congress created 439 new criminal offenses. That made for a grand total of 4,889 federal crimes. And that’s in addition to the growing number of state and local crimes for which Americans can be prosecuted.

    To make matters worse, many of these federal laws lack any mens rea, or “guilty mind,” requirement. That means you can be prosecuted even without criminal intent. Didn’t mean to break the law? Tough luck.

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